“A relationship between a person and someone other than (their) spouse (or lover) that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance and overall dynamic balance in the marriage. The role of an affair is to create emotional distance in the marriage.”
-an emotional affair, defined on Wikipedia
Still, it seems that many people in relationships, as long as they’re young, are naturally inclined to pursue other relationships beyond the platonic. They may say they’re not looking around after they’ve found you – Jane, or John; they may say that everyone else just has bits and pieces but you’re the consummate whole, and that coffee with their lab partner is just coffee with a lab partner, but if you’re both still young, then their eyes, ears, and noses (for major histocompatability complexes) are still downloading at 500 Mbps. Again – very naturally.
This section of an article from The Daily Beast summarizes an argument for the natural impulses of jealousy nicely:
Evolutionary psychologists argue that sex differences in jealousy are a legacy of humankind’s past, a biological imperative that no amount of reason, no veneer of civilization, can entirely quash. In other words, genes for traits that characterized the earliest humans shape how we think, feel and act, even if we are doing that thinking, feeling and acting in cities rather than in caves. In particular, men fly into a rage over adultery because to do so is hard-wired into their genes (not to mention their jeans). The reason is that a man can never be altogether sure of paternity. If, at the dawn of humanity, a man’s partner slept around, he could have wound up inadvertently supporting the child of a rival; he would also have had fewer chances of impregnating her himself. That would have given him a poor chance of transmitting his genes to the next generation. Or, put another way, only men who carried the gene that made them livid over a spouse’s roaming managed to leave descendants. Says UT’s Buss, “Any man who didn’t [do all he could to keep his wife from straying sexually] is not our ancestor.”
For a woman, the stakes were different. If her partner sired another’s child, his infidelity could have been over in minutes. (OK, seconds.) But if he became emotionally involved with an- other woman, he might have abandoned wife No. 1. That would have made it harder for her to raise children. So women are evolutionarily programmed to become more distressed at emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity.
We are interested, in this piece, in the impulses to wander – not precisely in jealousy – but it makes sense that a jealous man would safeguard his reproductive success by engaging sexually with women other than his wife, no? And that a woman who didn’t trust her mate’s emotional presence would latch onto others in order to ensure there will be someone to support her and offspring?
The article, in addition, serves to level the playing field of wandering a little bit (after the damage done by articles and TV specials by Dr. Oz and others called “How to keep your man from cheating” and “How to tighten the collar around his throat till he can’t breathe” and things like that.)
To think of other relationships as distractions that ought to be severed in order to maintain the current relationship, as often prescribed to those with changing interests, does nothing but make individuals with these inclinations (men or women) wonder if their current relationship is indeed worth it. It makes them think about the doors their parents used to lock when they were kids, the clock that their elementary school teacher used to turn against the wall so that no one could count down to recess.
The truth is simple to these individuals – if what’s behind the locked door is truly good for them then it means the current relationship is bad for them. To not know, on the other hand, is simply to not know, and you can imagine the look on a kid who is made to sit in a classroom and wait for a recess time that is TBA.
But if what’s behind the door truly isn’t good for them – then they’ll come back, and they’ll be even surer about what they’re doing. To them that’s the real emotional closeness the Wikipedia definition talks about – a closeness much more substantial than the kind they feel with blinders strapped to their eyes.
So that’s the thought process of wanderers.
But if it is natural for us to have migrating interests, then why do some couples stay together and happy from age 19 to 87? What’s the thought process of people who don’t wander? Maybe it’s an adaptive innovation. At some point, the individuals independently make the choices not to keep looking, in order to avoid the unhappiness they expect on the nomadic path – unhappiness they’d feel for being dissatisfied with the relationship, as well as the unhappiness they’d feel due to guilt for having feelings for others, or guilt for causing unhappiness in the partner. They avoid this unhappiness at the expense of a perhaps greater happiness than that which they feel with their current partner – with a hypothetically better partner – acknowledging correctly that to search incessantly is to gamble. They lose a lot of time, energy, and reproductive and parental capability if they keep sojourning. Those men and women who prefer sojourning anticipate the longevity of their resources much more optimistically, sometimes correctly, and sometimes not. Both types of people are acting in ways they feel will bring about the greatest happiness. C’est la vie.
With regard to the pain that sojourners impart to the partners they leave behind, they will maintain that there ought to be less pain in separating from someone with an absent heart than being with them, so that their partners should be happy to be rid of them. Sometimes the partners respond by saying it’s possible that one person is ‘perfect’ for another without the other being ‘perfect’ for the former; sojourners disagree. However much they disagree, though, the pain does not simply go away, and I empathize with all of you who have experienced it before. Understand, though, that as long as it hurts you, it hurts them, because their entire modus operandi expects your emotions not to be adversely impacted by their vacillations.
Wanderers, that is important for you to acknowledge, too. If you do currently love your partner, and you’re a wanderer while your partner is not, then you cannot expect the other person to stick around and retain his/her love while you bounce around to see if you can find love that is truer. They love you as a present force, not as an absent force, whether that means physically or mentally. Do not fool yourself into thinking you can maintain both a vacillating lifestyle and a devoted partner. You are likely to hurt and be hurt. From this point of view, fidelity is the right path for your own good, if not from solely the prescription of conventional morality. Maybe this utilitarian assessment is just where the conventional morality came from.
Likewise, those of you who are prone to falling in love too quickly had better slow down, so that you are less likely to find yourself in a relationship with someone who will begin looking around on account of your incompatibility. Like the wanderer above, you would be the cause of both your partner’s pain and your own.
There’s no reason why the evolutionary struggle for gene perpetuation should be without exertion, is there? Whether it means exerting yourself to be physically and emotionally monogamous, or exerting yourself and your physical and emotional resources to find the best partner. Either way, we’re utterly unable to understand the sentiments that animate the other party. We’ve dug ourselves deep not simply by taking one approach or the other, but by, as a population, taking both.